Things They Don’t Tell You About Moving House


Greetings from my new home! It’s my first night and I have all my furniture in place, while piles of stuff sit unsorted at the old house. It will come, but you might guess correctly that I’m not remotely qualified to post as a guru on all things practical for moving (I just have one purely practical tip below) – and there are plenty of great resources for packing hints and beginning to approach the mammoth task of getting everything you own from A to B in one piece (or at least in less than or equal to the number of pieces there were originally). I can, however, tell you ALL about being blindsided by the very normal things that don’t make it onto the lists that are actually helpful.

Disclaimer: it’s possible I’m actually insane. Results may vary.

So you have decided to move house! Congratulations. You are now a basketcase.  

Some of this is a no-brainer. And I have no brain, so I can verify this. I didn’t want to move. Of course there will be conflicted emotions. I miss my flat. But I am also excited about my new home. But it is new. But it is new! But it isn’t home yet. But it has so much better accommodation! This is all natural and normal. I was less prepared for the complete inability to get anything done because my mind was somewhere on a cushion-related Pinterest board, or emailing utility companies about whether their website is working properly and it’s just my details that are wonky, or trying to work out when I can talk to friends and family around all this nothing I seem to be doing.


The sneezing. Oh my goodness, the – ACHOO! – sneezing.

Dust. Dust everywhere. You can be houseproud and keep your shelves and electrical equipment shiny and dust-free, but unless you have a compelling reason to keep your home hospital-fresh those little particles will get everywhere. As soon as you start moving everything around, it will fly up in clouds from surfaces, textiles and your family members. Things you just dusted will be dusty. Things completely hemmed in by other things will be dusty. There may be things you have never unpacked, sealed in plastic and stored in containers; somehow they will be dusty. To add to the emotional trauma, every childhood allergy will cram itself in your face and wriggle around in your sinuses. You will sneeze for no apparent reason. There will be a constant gritty feeling in your eyelashes. Then, when you think the worst is over, your belongings go into a dusty van filled with dust from everyone else’s dusty house and they have a big dust party. You get everything into your new house and suddenly your new house is dusty, too.


It’s exhausting.

So you’re dusty. Let’s add sweaty to the mix, too. And that’s just from the exertion of bossing around your minions. Then you will have to move everything you brought home in individual shopping bags over the past decade. At once. Into boxes, into trucks, out of trucks, out of boxes… Things need to be rationalised, while you live with stuff around you all the time, in piles, in boxes, in huge towers of debris topped by the cat. And this is how it looks even if you’re semi-organised. Packing up takes a while. Planning to pack up takes a while. Then at the very least you have to travel to the new house and make up your bed just so you can recover a bit.


Your past comes back to haunt you.

Remember those awful jumpers you decided really suited you back in 2003, despite the fact that they were hideous to everyone else? No? Well, you will. Shoes with four-inch heels will remind you that your ankles are not what they were. Cringeworthy letters and pictures from long lost friendships that you shoved in a drawer will re-emerge like a Phoenix of Awful, cardigans you swore you would fold properly later wrinkle at you in judgement, and those hideous passport photos will remind you why you used to have such a self-esteem problem. Your old home feels rejected. Spitefully, it is spewing out all of these items just to kick you when you’re down, exhausted and have dust in your nostrils. Hang in there.


It goes on forever. 

I could be projecting here. Clearly, other people move house and don’t spend the rest of their lives unpacking boxes. My parents last moved house twenty-six-and-a-half years ago and I’m fairly confident they have had the past four or five months just to relax. But from where I’m sitting here, tonight, I have just finished a huge move after weeks of planning and a few fairly taxing days, and tomorrow I get to go back to the flat and continue working, except now without the comfy chairs? Le sigh. I am just going to be stoic and make like a Weeping Angel (“We have no need of comfy chairs“)


Finally, a practical tip.

So, you sat through all that nonsense. Well done. I mean that. Reward yourself with an actual hint for moving. Despite the complaints, this move has not been a total nightmare to organise as my mother and I collaborated on a Trello board. I don’t know how the Trello people would describe it, but it’s like Pinterest for organising junkies. We love making lists, and right before I got notice that I had to move, a member of a web team showed the site to a friend and me. She claims she has never seen such a look of joyful contentment as the one on my face when I saw his Trello board. I started playing around with it and when we had to plan the removal it was perfect – we can each access and edit our board with to do lists by theme, moving sets of checklists around and keeping track of what we have still to do. I would definitely recommend it to anyone planning anything with lots of bits, especially collaboratively.

So there we have it. My sole practical contribution. That, and remember to make up your bed right away. Speaking of which…

Exhibit A for Autopsy


Exhibit A for Autopsy

From Stirling Castle, Scotland. I’m pleased to know that the display did not cause additional suffering. However, given the way my mind works, I am now concerned about whether murderers who happen to be animals have been getting away with their misdeeds by staging accidents. A keen taxidermist asking too few questions and an evil bunny might escape justice. Scot-free, one might say.

Gerbil Essences


‘Twas the night before my viva (the final oral exam defending my PhD thesis). I was sitting minding my own business, chewing a chilli chimichanga that was merrily burning its way through my tongue, when my parents dropped the Gerbil Bombshell.

“I think we should tell her. I mean, I’m sure she’s old enough to handle it. We think Dusty ate Lemon.”

Let’s backtrack. My family has a somewhat chequered history with rodents, and we are probably on an RSPCA watch list. Any day now Secret Squirrel Shoppers will start turning up at our houses with hidden cameras in their fur.

It all began when I was five, and it was my turn to look after the class gerbil for the weekend. Squeak was his name, being as he was part of an estranged double-act called Bubble and Squeak (though now I wonder if Bubble met his end in a more cannibalistic fashion). My mother went to empty out the old sawdust from his enclosure and left Squeak in an ice cream tub with my father and I to play, issuing strict instructions that whatever happened we were not to let the gerbil get out and run away. Instead of listening to the voice of rodenty experience, my father thought, “Pfft, how fast can a glorified hamster be?”

Much of the following two hours was spent trying to coax an anxious gerbil down from the interior of an upright piano.

For reasons best explored by professionals, the next year my parents nevertheless took an intuitive leap and decided that getting two gerbils would be a good move. I was enraptured by the whirling ball of fluff that arrived in my house and loved watching the gerbils, playing with the gerbils and making Olympic-standard obstacle courses for the gerbils. The gerbils – names Dusty and Lemon with imaginative reference to their respective hues – were reasonably tolerant of this enforced exercise and rarely took to nibbling the Tiny Human Overlord. Until Dusty snapped and apparently ATE Lemon.

After Lemon’s cruel end, Dusty continued to enjoy the single life in his gerbil duplex bachelor pad, though he eventually grew bored and worked out how to escape. He could use his little paws to unscrew the uppermost level of his house and made it to the floor through what I can only assume was a heroic but minuscule abseiling sequence. Perhaps accompanied by the Mission Impossible theme on a glockenspiel.

One night my mother awoke and heard chaos downstairs. Our fairly new puppy, Ribbons (yes, I named the pets), was going bonkers. She went down and was calming the dog when what she thought was a rat ran across her feet and she shrieked. Of course, it was just Dusty having second thoughts about taking that night job inside the upholstery and making for home base. But it serves as a valuable lesson in both gerbil security and the strength of Yorkie ratting instincts.

Dusty began to look a bit worse for wear after a couple of years. Accepting that he was an elderly gerbil and death comes to us all, I nevertheless felt a deep sadness that he would not be with us to celebrate his birthday the following month. My conviction was that Dusty should get to celebrate early and go out on a high. We may have had a houseguest to traumatise, but I would not be dissuaded. We baked the gerbil a cake and wrapped up some toilet roll tubes as gifts, then I made everyone kneel around him and sing happy birthday.

Miraculously, Dusty recovered. I was convinced the special attention had done him good until I was twenty-five and my parents confessed that, having decided on a kill-or-cure approach, they had given him whisky and he perked right up.

Dusty, the escapology-studying, dog-tormenting alcoholic gerbil. A bit like a rodent James Bond with less misogyny and more sunflower seeds. Why my parents felt that the night before a nervewracking major life-event was the best time to introduce gerbil cannibalism to our family history, I can’t say.

A post-script to my rodent saga came in 2008, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I was staying in Denver for a week with a friend. Taking an overnight bag, we took her parents up on their kind invitation to join them at their cabin that weekend. I realised at one point that my pear-scented deodorant had leaked and saturated my only change of shirt. My friend’s parents offered to let me air it overnight on the deck so I would not smell so much like food in the morning.

At sunrise I was already awake, popped outside to admire the mountain vista with pink rays glinting off a distant bison, then went back to sleep contentedly. A couple of hours later I emerged to find three slightly guilty looking hosts who rushed to apologise for an event that was certainly not their fault but has provided much amusement since: chipmunks ate my shirt. People think I am making this up, but they had chewed an impressive number of holes in the material so that parts of it were barely clinging together. I giggled about it for a while then packed the remnants carefully so that I could demonstrate the power of chipmunk teeth.

The chipmunks, however, did not eat my gerbil, so cannot be implicated in my parents’ poor judgement.

Relaxation Tape vs. My Overactive Brain on Caffeine

Koh Samui by Burti

Right. Sleepytime.

Am I lying on my headphones? And where is my iPod? Oh, got it. Under the pillow. If we could just make the sound come through the pillow that would be much comfier. But wait, they already make those and I can’t have one because I’m convinced I would forget about it and give it to a guest who would accidentally press play during the night and think that demons were talking to them. I don’t really want to wake up headless. Earbuds it is.

Snuggle snuggle. And…begin.

WHOOOOSH… WHOOOOOSH… [babbling brook sounds]…

Great. I need the loo.

Okay. That’s helped. Here we go.

WHOOOOOOSH… Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down…

Which? This may have an effect on the narrative. Or are we just going to be lying on a beach again? I bet we’re going to be lying on a beach. Which reminds me of a painful relaxation tape episode when I was 12 and my father gave me the tape to distract me from my terrible sunburn then wondered why I was groaning as I listened to, “You can feel the sun beating down…”

Also I couldn’t relax that much on a beach. What if I fall asleep and the tide comes in? Or there’s a tidal wave? I was always scared of tidal waves. On some beaches people are always trying to sell you stuff and it’s not very relaxing. And if I fall asleep on a beach people might steal my stuff. Even on an imaginary beach I need my stuff.

I’m going to mention parts of your body…

Oi, my eyes are up here. On my eyeballs.

…and you will feel those parts begin to relax. Remove any item of clothings that might hinder your total relaxation…

“item of clothings“? Are you winging this?

Picture yourself in a magical forest…

Okay, that’s new. But are we talking about Disneyland-safe, sanitised fairytale magic or dodgy street magician stealing my wallet while showering me with playing cards magic? Am I lying down in the forest? If I’m standing up it wouldn’t be very relaxing but if I’m lying down it might be uncomfortable. I suppose I could make a bed out of some moss or something but it’s night and it will be cold. Also there could be bugs. Is something crawling on me?

… and the moon is lighting up the rich…forest…trees.

Yeah, you’re winging this.

The crickets are gently lulling you to sleep…

And here come the bugs.

Above you you see a white light.

Do I go into it?

It is the most relaxing light you could ever imagine.

That’s not setting the bar very high. I mean, I don’t routinely sit around fantasising about the day I win the lottery and can afford really soothing lightbulbs. If light is so relaxing why did you start off telling me to turn down the lights, hmm?

The light lowers onto your head…

This is where it would be helpful to know whether I’m standing or lying. If I’m standing I feel this will proceed smoothly, but if I’m lying down and this weird light starts lowering itself towards my face, then I’m going to feel less relaxed and more like a glow worm is trying to smother me. Hey, remember that glow worm matching game we used to play? I always really liked the square pyramid pieces. It was satisfying the way they fit exactly into the holes in the board. Where were we? Ah, the smothering glow worm. You know, this reminds me of exactly two things: a particularly vengeful Tinkerbell, and the light that kidnapped people and took them to the future in The 4400. I can’t believe I stuck with that show for so long hoping there would be resolution. I hate when things just get cancelled, even when I’m not that committed. Don’t even start me on Flash Forward. Netflix is a harsh mistress. Oh! The light.

You feel all the little frowns in your forehead just smooth out…

Yes, my forehead is where I like to keep my frowns. Are you calling me wrinkly?

Your eyelids feel so heavy you don’t even want to open them…

I should have known it was a mistake drawing your attention to my eyeballs.

Eyeballs, blah blah, facial muscles, jaw relax, blah blah…

Sorry, forgot to listen for a minute there. Please continue.

You feel all the little nerve endings begin to relax…

Nerve endings relax? I suppose mine could do with calming down about now. I shouldn’t have had that extra Coke Zero so close to bedtime. Am I rattling?

The light travels down your spine. As it goes you feel the warmth move out across your back and around your bottom as it travels on to the hollow of your knees…

Hold up. The back thing started out relaxing and was just beginning to work when suddenly we were at my knees (and can we leave my bottom out of this?) – can I have enough time to actually relax when you’re telling me to relax? I’m now tense because I feel I’m falling behind. Will there be a quiz?

…down your calves to the bottom of your feet. And each and every toe…

Eleven. Check.

…begins to relax. Now picture yourself on a beautiful tropical beach…


The sun is getting ready to set…

What, like it’s putting its rollers in? Okay, now I’m just being picky. I need to commit. What time of year is it? Is it hot? I don’t find being sweaty very relaxing. It’s like all the worst parts of P.E. without the satisfaction of thrashing an opposing team at something. But if it’s cool now and then the sun sets, it could get pretty chilly out here.  Maybe I could just make myself a nest of pillows or something. Mmm, pillows… Ooh! Maybe this is me relaxing!

I’m going to count backwards from ten…

This is not a good time to stimulate my synaesthesia., but let’s give it a try.


Nine green bottles hanging on the purple cheesecake fairy monkey monkey monkey…

When did morning happen?


Koh Samui by Burti

This is a realistic impression of my nightly routine. I’m usually convinced it’s not going to work until I realise I have been in a deep sleep for several hours. Winner: the relaxation tape.